Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
In the Laboratory
By Thomas Wood Stevens
 
SO you have lost your keen Italian craft—
You, sir, with the pale-blue steady eyes.
The restless liquids changing in a wink,
The elemental catch-and-cling, the flames,
The quiet cultures hatching hour by hour—        5
All these are not the secret Kiss-of-Death?
You do not follow me? It’s just as well—
I only muse on fashions of your trade.
For you, the present mode’s enough; for you
The rose-red liquor of the Borgia’s feast,        10
The ointment on the blade at Elsinore,
The cobra-touch of the Byzantine ring—
Crude things they seem, I take it, in your eyes……
And yet they had their midnight will of life.
 
But you have lost the pose, the furtive air.        15
That devilish old theatric charlatan
Had much the better of you, sir, in style.
This same clear glass—he used it for a gaze
That hoped to glimpse the cloudy shape of Fate.
You spread a drop upon a slide; stain it        20
Some hue that pierces evil things alone—
(Magic in that? A little, if you like)—
And balance in its groove this paltry drop.
The light gleams through it to the lens above.
No, I can’t look, sir……It’s my life, you know.        25
Give me a moment. Let me prattle on.
What’s this? And this? Grave issues, every one.
This tells you if a beam of ribboned steel
Will hold some daring tower against the sky.
These tubes?—the milk tests: ah, the little lives        30
That hang in peril till you mark them safe.
And this?—a matter of your own research.
You are still curious? A mere chance, you think—
I understand. Into the springs of life,
The primal secrets and the hidden wells,        35
You peer when trade is dull. You tear apart
The final atoms in their whirling dance,
And trust they may not find their way again.
The mind of God is swift……And so is Death.
 
No, sir, not yet. The first look must be mine.        40
How should it stand? If the round discs are clear—
Fair winds, and hope, and lengthening days, you say?
Good! Fear, sir, is a grisly thing to feel.
If they be tinged with violet, then the plague—
The pale, slow plague—is rotting out my life.        45
Suppose I dash the thing aside, and slay
The messenger of evil ere he speak?
No, no!—a moment more. That was my Fear
Who sometimes cries before I crush him down.
Now I will know……The violet shade, you say,        50
Is the death sign; the white is innocent.
Well, now the hoary wings of doom are poised
Above me, and I feel their fluttering……
Tomorrow, and the fostering sun, the flowers,
The kisses and the songs, the green spring roads,        55
And all my soul’s new fortunes and desires,
Tremble across this disc of light. Ah, God!
Some brandy! Sweet Life! The glass is clear.
 
 
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